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Sep. 1st, 2014


My new resolution should be to update this more than once a month. At first, nothing was happening, then EVERYTHING happened.

-- I got a year-long lectureship at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, California. For reference, that's almost exactly half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. (For those of you who have been added since the last time I taught or graded, any posts that mention students will be locked and I will keep names off. My students have a right to privacy more than I have a right to rant.)

-- I move on the 10th. Classes start the 22nd. I teach three classes: two sections of calculus-based physics, and a section of 'physics for non-scientists'. The last is at 8 AM. (No one likes 8 AM classes; I don't, and most of the students don't. The only reason I liked 8 AM classes as a student because it meant I was done early in the day, and I had no trouble doing math at ass o'clock in the morning*, even before I started drinking tea.)

-- I probably have an apartment. I mailed my deposit last week, and I was going to call them today before I remembered that it was Labor Day.

-- I am (mostly) packed. There are about five boxes of actual household stuff, and 18 boxes of books and craft supplies. (Three of those are work-related books). Also several full trash cans, 3 ebay auctions and 9 Rubbermaid totes of things to donate. Mom's current thoughts is that it will be cheaper to ship these than hire someone to move. (As I have had my license less than a year, Mom has vetoed 'rent a van, drive to California', which was Dad's suggestion; if they're still there by Christmas, I might do that anyway. After three months on California highways, I suspect the interstate will be fine.)

-- I'm driving a lot better. I still hate going downtown, and like parking far away from everyone. (I get a walk AND I don't have to deal with not hitting things.)

-- Mom and Ben are out of town (back tomorrow), so I've been using the excuse to cook all the things I'm too lazy to make normally because only I will eat them.

-- I expect my adviser will be making noise about publishing the parts of my dissertation that aren't in peer-reviewed journals. I haven't looked at my research in a week. (The good news is that my collaborators and I mostly agree, and where we disagree are the places where one person's data isn't reliable.)

* Seriously, in high school math competitions, the earlier they were, the better I did... I suspect more because everyone else was half-asleep than any ability on my part to be a morning person.

Apr. 13th, 2014


Yesterday I visited UNL's observatory in Mead, Nebraska. We have a telescope on-campus as well, but this is the one that was used for a lot of the research*.

I swear, the place hasn't changed. Up to and including posters that still mention the USSR and don't mention dwarf planets** or that Pluto has all kinds of friends out there. On the car ride over, I got a overview about how the astronomy part of Physics and Astronomy has somehow managed to get worse: both the Mead telescope and the Student Observatory telescope have had problems, and we continue to have one astronomer who is close to retirement, one temporary person hired to teach Astro 103 specifically, and one who is part-time with the math department to keep his position and will probably never get tenure. They stopped offering the astronomy track for their physics major because they couldn't guarantee they could teach the courses.

About the only reason there's talk of actually changing this rather than continuing to let Nebraskan astronomy die its slow death was that the University of Nebraska at Kearney hired several astronomers and is setting itself up as the school in the state college system for astronomy, and somehow that pisses the physicists at UNL off. Even so, they'd probably have to start from practically nothing.

... If they do, I wonder if they'd hire me.

* I used the on-campus telescope for mine, partially because it's convenient (10 minute walk versus 30-40 minute drive that usually means staying at the observatory all night), partially because I could, and partially because of departmental politics. But the official reason we had the telescope on campus was for class viewing and student labs, but if no one else was using it, you could do whatever. Including letting friends in to look at Mars.

** I gave a talk, and I did mention dwarf planets in my solar system overview, even if the talk was on Jupiter and Saturn.

Oct. 10th, 2013

DPS Day 1, Part 1

So, I am right now at the Division for Planetary Science annual conference, in lovely Denver. Yes, I have left the hotel... mostly to get lunch/dinner and also allergy medication/chapstick. (Dry air does not help, and I suspect the high altitude is interfering with my sleep patterns, but I generally feel far worse than I do in Ithaca, and it feels more like allergies than Con Crud.) I could do tourist stuff... but then I'd have to skip talks. And I like talks. (I did skip the morning sessions today, but after sitting through two talks and nearly falling asleep, I decided that if I was going to sleep, I should do it in my room.)

Because sharing is caring, I'm going to try to summarize some of the talks. Keep in mind, there are usually three sessions going at once, so this mostly caters to my interests.

Mercury )

Jul. 9th, 2013

Wave at Saturn!

I need to blog more (she says again)...

Expect some more posts, btu now I'm going to tell you how you should be spending next Friday (19 July) afternoon.

The answer is waving as Cassini takes your photograph )

Jun. 3rd, 2013

I read the strangest things sometimes...

So, someone on Plurk linked me to a post on Tumblr on Homestuck!troll* linguistics by a biologist ([tumblr.com profile] xenobiologistforhire) who wished her fandom aliens were a bit more alien (basically 'why do semi-aquatic insect aliens handle English so well when their breathing apparatuses evolved under potentially way different conditions?'). Ended up reading the entire blog, because while all I know about Homestuck is from RP and my friendslist, I am a sucker for xenobiology. And the author did cool things with parasites, which I always like. (See also: why I love reading [livejournal.com profile] seanan_mcguire's writing.)

A lot of the thinking paralleled some stuff I was working on in some of my writing (not the insect-y bits but how species that evolved from aquatic critters might gain vocal cords, and also why terrestrial vertebrates evolved with our food and breathing tubes attached and how that's not necessarily an obvious choice for aliens.

I really ought to write more about fictional species biology, especially if folks can comment on it.

* I'm kind of fascinated by the Homestuck fandom, despite being unable to get into the canon. Mostly because the bits I find interesting (weird imperialistic aliens who are forced to interact with humans or possibly just decided to invade) don't occur until well into the story (about kids in a world-creating/destroying video game with time shenanigans) and the story itself seems like an exercise in 'what the hell is going on now?'. And given how finicky I can be about fan shipping wank** and crotchety I can be about Tumblr, I don't really want to get involved in it directly. But I find it interesting from a meta point of view because it seems like there's extensive gardens of fanon and convention that may or may not exist in the canon. But that's just my outsider POV.

** See: the Avatar fandom. Any of it.

Aug. 1st, 2012


So, in less than a week, the Curiosity Rover will land on Mars, at approximately 1:30 AM on August 6th Eastern US Time. Cornell is doing a 'watch NASA TV with the local Mars experts*' thing, but given the time (coverage extends from 11:30 PM on the 5th to 3 or 4 AM), I might stay home. Since, otherwise I'd probably end up sleeping on the couch in the grad student lounge. Which is not a bad place to sleep and sure beats my desk, but is less preferable than my bed. (Or, for that matter, my own couch.)

So, internet people, would there be interest in me hosting a Mars party over the Internet from 11:30 PM until I pass out at my desk? I have Skype and IRC, and could easily just hang out there and answer questions and make smartass comments about NASA TV (which is streaming over the web so you can watch NASA people try to figure out what to talk about, especially since who knows when the first pictures will come down**.)

* Probably Shoshe the grad student, since last time Dr. Squyres was on CNN instead.
** As soon as the rover lands, it'll send a 'I made it' signal to NASA, which we'll get 14 minutes later because the speed of light is finite and Mars is far away. Then we all cheer and toast Curiosity. But that's not a picture; it just means the rover did not make what we euphemistically call a 'hard landing'.

Pictures depend on when the rover can contact the satellites we have in Mars orbit and start dumping all the stuff it saved on the way down. I think the first picture it'll send is a thumbnail taken by the hazard cameras on the front of the rover, that handle the 'steer round the rocks' bit of rover driving automatically (but can also be used as low-res black and white pictures). Whether this comes on the first pass of the satellite or not depends on many things.
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Jul. 30th, 2012

There are days when I want to pick up, leave Ithaca and go teach high school somewhere. And they aren't days when I'm sick of my *%&#*&!@ dissertation. Well, not always. )

May. 24th, 2012

My Inner Skeptic LOVES Orbital Mechanics

I'm discovering that hard SF where you're bouncing around the solar system means my Inner Skeptic actually pays attention to people other than me and my writing.

Probably because I've spent most of my adult life following NASA missions. Maybe because I read Heinlein in high school, and Heinlein learned orbital mechanics for his solar-system SF. There might be Martians and Venusians and a spin-locked Mercury*, but by golly, things moved like they should.

But when you're gallivanting around the Solar System you have to remember that things are all moving at different rates.

Nerdity Ahoy! I'll be good and not do the math here, though. )

I feel really weird that things like this bug me enough to make petty ranty journal posts about it. Also, yes, I have calculated things like 'what's a good timescale for going from X to Y assuming no magic physics that let me ignore that if we accelerate too hard, we kill the passengers'.

* This is a SFnal dating technique: look at what things we thought we knew at the time but turned out wrong. So Mercury's rotation makes me go 'wait, what', but a quick check to the publication date makes me go with it.

Jan. 26th, 2012

I have thoughts about Newt Gingrich

Well, yes, I have many thoughts. Some of which are full of colorful language. These thoughts in particular about his whole 'space program thing'.

So, for my non-American readers, the Republican Party is currently trying to decide who they want to run as the official Republican nominee for President in November. Most of my thoughts on the candidates involve 'gentlemen, your policies are 99% bigoted garbage that I think will be horrible for America, and you seem engaged in a contest to see who can be the worst human being'.

But, Newt Gingrich, in an effort to distinguish himself from Mitt Romney*, decided he was going to be all 'Space is awesome, you guys!'.  )

Nov. 8th, 2011

Science and Plutonium

A political thing that is relatively uncontroversial for your (American) election day. But, first! A story!

So, yesterday folks in my research group were talking about various things, as we do, and somehow the Cassini end of mission plans came up. If you're not familiar with what I actually do, Cassini is the mission I work on, that currently orbits Saturn and has for seven years. We plan on running it until 2017, since outer Solar System missions are pretty hardy, and it'll always be cheaper to use what you got than to build a new mission and wait til it gets out there. Plus, there are other giant planets to visit.

Now, NASA has a thing about space missions near potentially habitable places cleaning up after themselves.  )

Jul. 29th, 2011

Rings 2011! Woo~!

Today I got a talk on Pluto's New Moon by the discoverer* and to listen to a science fight over when and how Saturn's rings and medium-sized moons were made.

Life is good, even if I am tired.

* Basically, someone had to cancel his talk at the last minute, so Mark Showalter offered to give a second talk. Since it was a rings meeting and not a moons or KBOs meeting, the official topic was 'Non-detection of Rings around Pluto' -- which was the original intent of the observations. The fact it would locate moons was a fringe benefit.

Jul. 8th, 2011

NASA does stuff!

I promised some friends on Twitter I'd celebrate the last launch of the Space Shuttle by talking about NASA's robots. Because NASA does so many other cool things besides send people on a space shuttle to orbit.

Robots! And Acronyms! )

I have to remember to finish my post series discussing the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, too...

Jul. 7th, 2011

Space Stuff: good and bad

Sometime this week is the first Neptunian-year anniversary since Neptune was spotted and recognized. I might do a blog post about the story of Neptune's discovery, since it's a fun one. Probably tomorrow.

Also, tomorrow, if all goes well, it will be the final launch of a Space Shuttle. You can watch it on NASA TV, or on their website. NASA is working on getting a replacement human spaceflight vehicle, and has plenty of rockets for robots, but until NASA either finishes theirs or private industry takes on the job*, we're using old Russian Soyuz rockets to get up to the Space Station.

Another depressing thing is that the Republican budget came out -- it hasn't been voted on yet, but it's published -- and it takes away funding from NASA. The thing that has everyone upset at the office is that they want to cancel the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST is supposed to be a bit of a Hubble replacement. Unlike Hubble, it won't be servicable by astronauts (it'll sit too far from Earth), and will be more geared towards infrared observations. But it's bigger and will have better instruments.

It's taking forever to design -- one of our researchers nicknamed it the Just Wait and See Telescope -- but it's been the dream instrument for a lot of people. Even though it's gotten cost overruns and delays**. So everyone is doing the Write Your Congresscritter explaining how this is an investment. Granted, sometimes NASA tends to toss good money after bad in projects that took too long to figure out that we can't do them with the resources we have, but it seems a shame to cancel the thing and not have a space telescope once Hubble finally is retired.

* This is an argument in itself. Problem is, there's not much for people to do in space, so a lot of companies are better off building smaller rockets for satellite launching. OTOH, part of that is because government space agencies run the only game in town. So one of the arguments is that now that going to low-Earth orbit is a routine engineering problem, we should pass it off to private companies to figure out if they can make money off of it.

** The one leads to the other. Basically, if you think it'll take three years to design a mirror and it takes six, you have to pay twice money for staff/facilities/etc. Plus, you're paying some astronomers to hang around to work on the new telescope, rather than move on after Hubble.

Jul. 4th, 2011

Life Update

So, the moral of the story? Don't do fandom writing things the same time you have to write a 12-page proposal for NASA. Ended up dropping most of my fandom stuff because after spending workdays trying to justify that I knew enough spectroscopy for NASA to give me money, I really didn't feel like writing about civil wars, adventure stories, or researching if Harry Dresden could SCUBA-dive in Lake Michigan*. Drawing on the other hand, seemed to work just fine.

I'm getting back on the bicycle in that I'm also writing drabbles again, which usually means that the urge to write has come back. I'll take the rest of the summer/fall at an easy pace and see if I can finish the two big stories I started.

And I did get my proposal in, so hope that I get a job out at NASA Ames (that's in the Bay Area). My boss is seriously thinking I can finish by the end of the summer. I have my doubts -- in that I need to Find a Job and put a lot of my work time/energy towards that, which will delay thesis finishing -- but I expect that I can get my degree before the end of 2011.

Unfortunately, the American Astronomical Society and American Geophysical Union's** job pickings are pretty slim. Which means I need to spend a lot of time emailing people and asking if they know of any postdocs/have funding for one rather than just answering ads. You'll know my desperation by what jobs I'm at. Right now, the Kuiper Belt Object ones are starting to look appealing. Worry when I start to dust off my extragalactic astronomer cred from undergrad. Really worry if I'm trying to convince cosmologists or geologists I know anything***.

* Answer: Maybe? I'm still not sure how computerized modern equipment is, or if I should just have him magic up a substitute.

** Planetary science is kind of between the two. My own work is much closer to astronomy than earth and atmospheric science, so AAS is a more obvious choice. But AGU's membership is $7 for students. The way my adviser tells it, it's a difference in philosophy -- AAS charges more for membership so they can keep meeting/publication prices down. AGU makes membership cheap, but charges for meetings. That and AGU can get more industry money from mining/energy companies, while AAS is slightly less funded (we still get instrument makers and aerospace taking an interest).

*** One of our postdocs actually is a cosmologist who did work on the Cosmic Microwave Background (which is literally the earliest thing we can see in the Universe). He arrived maybe a year before I did, and was hired because he was great at signal processing. Now he talks rings like a pro. Of course, he also has a double major in physics and anthropology, reads several ancient languages and can give a competent talk on evolutionary biology. I kind of want to be him when I grow up.

Apr. 26th, 2011

Life Update

Yesterday I got a draft of my second paper printed off and handed to the adviser, along with an email I wanted to send to someone at NASA Ames which is basically 'hi, I want to work for you, can you help me with my proposal?' Part of the problem is that I'm not very assertive, so I have an idea of what I can do, but there's a lot of Cassini data that is considered Dr. So-and-so's territory. And that's not always written down or apparent from who is publishing what*. So I kind of need my adviser's moral support, since he knows the power structure better than me. (And I can blame him if things happen.)

Also, Dreamwidth is doing a fest celebrating the site's anniversary, so I'm posting a few things over there on astronomy. I'll link them over on LJ and IJ when they're done, but if you all want to check them out, I'm still [personal profile] beccastareyes. Right now I'm talking about the Decadal Survey (a once-a-decade document planetary scientists put together to tell NASA what kind of missions would be cool to do), but I'm open to other science writing suggestions.

Today we have dinner with a professor, and I'm putting the finishing touches on my code. Hopefully by the end of the week I can test it on something other than the test case I've been using to get all the bugs out -- I am sick and tired of looking at Gamma Crucis through the Encke Gap.

* It's not 'my' instrument or team, but it's a semi-joke around the department that Dr. Squyres is technically on the Cassini icy satellites team. Originally he had been put there because everyone assumed that the Mars Exploration Rovers would quickly wrap up in the three months they were supposed to work for, and then he could come and study Saturnian moons with us. Note that Opportunity is still running, seven years, three months and one day after it touched down on Mars. (Spirit is hibernating, and may or may not wake up again.)
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Apr. 12th, 2011

So, the interview meme. [livejournal.com profile] padparadscha asked me questions, I gave answers, and I can try to ask you questions too, if you like.

A lot of astronomical rambling goes here )

Mar. 24th, 2011


Boo yah, I am so a published author!

Okay, it's a journal article, which, for a scientist is like saying 'I am employed and/or not dead', but still.
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Mar. 3rd, 2011

Of interest

Psych-Out Sexism: The innocent, unconscious bias that discourages girls from math and science.

This article argues that some of the 'leaky pipeline' -- the fact that women drift away from science and math at a proportionately higher rate than men when you go from high school to college to grad school to a career -- is based partially on biases about whether science is inclusive. Basically, it cites some studies done that show female high school students are more willing to tackle a tough math problem on a test when a female math major is proctoring the exam (rather than a male math major), and that female students with a female professor become more willing to volunteer answers in class and go to office hours than if they have a male professor. I've seen other studies that show students two advertisements for a science program and both male and female students identify the mixed-gender pictures as seeming more welcoming than the predominantly-male pictures.

It's a bit discouraging, since it's kind of a self-perpetuating cycle unless you ask women to work their butts off to get the next generation into the field. I know I've met female professors who've mentioned being asked to be on ALL THE COMMITTEES so they aren't all-male, which takes them away from the parts of the job they like. Teaching is fun, but I think I'd start to resent it if I was constantly asked to do it instead of cool science things.

I don't know how much I was affected by things like this. My stepmother is a scientist, and I had mostly female science and math teachers in middle and high school -- from 7th grade*, only my high school physics teacher was male and the math teacher I had for a month in seventh grade before I was moved up a year.

OTOH, it's one reason Nancy, our outreach coordinator, is particularly happy when we have both male and female grad students (or anyone) helping. Because it's good for the public to see scientists that aren't all men.

* Which was when we got teachers dedicated to each subject. In 6th grade, two teachers were in charge of wrangling the gifted and talented classes, and they traded off subjects.

Dec. 6th, 2010

Women in science

Reading blogs, and I got this from Pharyngula. Dr. Myers notes that he likes to throw a few softballs at his students at exam time so that the folks who show up/do the reading/pay attention get some points. One of the questions he normally asks is "Name a scientist, any scientist, who also happens to be a woman."

About 10% of the class leave it blank. C'mon, it's a free 2 points on a 100 point exam! Over half the time, I get the same mysterious answer: Marie Curie. We do not talk about Marie Curie in this class at all, and it's always a bit strange that they have to cast their minds back over a century to come up with a woman scientist. Next year, I should change the question to "Name a scientist, any scientist, who also happens to be a woman, and isn't named Marie Curie," just to screw with their heads. They won't be able to think of anyone but Marie Curie.

Note that this is a biology class that mentions many biologists. Dr. Myers also notes that the second-most-common is 'Jane Goodall' (who was also not mentioned in the course). Third was 'Louise Pasteur', which... well, I guess showing that many people are confused by French noun gender. So, Dr. Myers offered a challenge -- name 10 female scientists who were not Marie Curie (or Goodall).

... I got about 18 before I realized I was starting to name friends. But I did get at least ten people I have never actually met or heard speaking. Reading the comments brought me a few more professionals of things I wasn't sure if they counted as 'science'.

So, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to name as many female scientists as you can. You can use Google to check name spellings, but not to, say, match up 'that one that discovered the thing'. (Scientists may want to either exempt themselves from the challenge or limit it to 'people who are not working in my field and/or who I know personally'.)

And, if we're being fair, see if you can name as many male scientists -- just to control for people who don't know many scientists at all.

Nov. 8th, 2010

Timing, Eris and Saturn's Moons

Every other week, my research group and a few interested bystanders have a Distant Planets Journal Club. Recently, a book called Saturn from Cassini was published that aimed to collect a summary of everything we have discovered about Saturn, its rings, and its moons (except Titan, which got its own book) since Cassini arrived there. This week, we read the chapter on the origin of the Saturnian system, which was mostly about its moons*.

It's interesting, since the professors in the group have worked on outer planets since Voyager was doing its thing, so they have a good sense of the history of the field. So we talked a bit about how more data messes up the nice, simple pictures we make.

Solar System Chemistry )

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